Asbestos

A topical issue for my business recently has been the handling of building materials that contain Asbestos. The first important point to note is there is a lot of this Asbestos in use in UK housing stock. The worst offending materials (known often as Brown and Blue Asbestos) were phased out in the early to mid 1980s, but what is often called White Asbestos was still used in products until 1990. In many situations a home owner will be hiring a skilled tradesman to work on their property. These tradesman will/should be able to easily identify where there is a risk of Asbestos being present and advise on appropriate action to deal with it, often by recommending a specialist organization that can handle the situation in line with statutory obligations and Health and Safety Executive recommended practices. The message here for landlords and homeowners of properties built or refurbished between the 50s and late 80s is to make sure they select tradesman who have experience or are trained to at least initially identify this risk. Asbestos removal can be rather expensive not least because of the licensing and documentation involved, but also the specialist techniques, equipment required and waste disposal complications.

Asbestos can be found in a surprising variety home building products. A few are becoming somewhat obvious to home owners such as heat and fire resistant boards found in or near heating appliances and garage roofing panels. These same or similar boards turn up in garage ceilings and wall boards instead of plaster board. Some products are not so obvious such as floor tiles and textured paint ceilings such as Artex.

Textured paint on ceilings is a product that I would like to highlight because it is so common in homes. The amount of White Asbestos found in textured paint applied prior to 1990 could vary 0% to 5%. But this asbestos is bonded into the paint so is not free to float into the air unless it is scraped, sanded or cut.

Comprehensive statistics show the main groups in th UK affected by health issues with Asbestos are tradesman working with the products, not the occupants of homes where the products were used. This is not to say that the general public are not at risk, it is just that tradesman who were exposed to this stuff on in 1950s, 60s, and 70s are showing the highest incidence of serious health issues. Very serious it is too.

Often the choice and best way of dealing with asbestos found in the home is to note where it is and leave it alone. Don’t disturb it. If the asbestos product has to be disturbed then often it is a job for a specialist contractor. However it is worth noting some work on products containing asbestos can be undertake by non licensed contractors and do not require notification to the Health and Safety Executive. A useful example of this would be a decorator working on an area of affected old Artex or similar that is less than 1 metre square in size, or drilling an old textured/Artex ceiling to fit downlighters. Both of these could be undertaken by non licensed contractors and is not Notifiable.

Whether the work is or has to be undertaken by a licensed contractor or not requires a simple H&SE decision tree to be followed. Testing for the presence of Asbestos is another straight forward part of the risk assessment and planning process which many contractors can do for home owners. Whoever does the actual work whether DIY, licensed or unlicensed contractor has H&SE guidelines to follow to reduce the risk of airborne Asbestos fibres.

Finally the waste left over from any work has to be disposed of. Here is where the Environment Agency and local councils have requirements. If the left over waste is more than 0.1% Asbestos then it is classed as Hazardous Waste. For home owners who produce a small amount of Asbestos waste that reasonably was not produced as a consequence of a DIY home improvement project, then certain local council waste disposal depots will take certain asbestos waste types (and double bagged). If the waste is less than 0.1% Asbestos then it is not hazardous and can be put in the household bin. For contractors it is a lot more complicated and this is why home owners can expect to pay surprisingly high prices for disposal of even small amounts of Asbestos contaminated materials.

The above is my take on interpreting the significant amount of statutory and advisory documentation on this subject. Working with and handling Asbestos containing materials it is not something to be undertaken lightly.

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